Earning a major 3-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday in Laval, the Rocket rolled into Rochester on Friday just a win behind the Americans for third place in the North Division. The clash was much more than just a divisional contest; the Amerks came into this game having just snapped a seven-game losing skid, while the Rocket were cruising along having won seven of their previous 10 games.
Struggles or not, the Amerks presented a dangerous lineup with 2017 first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt joining a talented group also boasting Jean-Sebastien Dea, Zach Redmond, and, while he was scratched, Lawrence Pilut, who was also a big part of stopping their losing skid. In net was AHL All-Star Jonas Johansson, whose stellar 12-3-3 record would be put to the test. The Rocket countered with Keith Kinkaid, looking to get the veteran back on track after he was shelled for five goals against Manitoba last weekend.
The contest began slowly, with both sides failing to establish much offence off their dump-ins, but Laval did end up getting the best looks prior to the first TV timeout. The fourth line wore the Amerks down as Kevin Lynch and Michael Pezzetta worked a grinding style down the boards. They gave way to the top line, and a nifty bit of work freed up Charles Hudon in the slot, but his wrist shot was gloved in close by Johansson to keep the game scoreless.
Rochester returned the Laval pressure in kind, forcing the Rocket to try to jam passes through, and they cut them off at every chance. Kinkaid stood tall despite the lengthy attack from the Amerks, turning away shots through multiple screens and keeping Rochester off the board.
By the halfway point of the period, the goaltender had turned away eight shots, but the Rocket had the first penalty of the game to kill off thanks to a Nikita Jevpalovs hook. While the Rocket repelled the early waves from Rochester’s top unit, a point shot by John Gilmour was deflected over Kinkaid’s shoulder by Andrew Oglevie to put the Amerks up by a goal.
Things only got worse, as a dump-in was set to be played by Kinkaid, and he turned to fire it as Josh Brook was moving in to take it. The defenceman put his hands and stick up when he saw the goalie was playing it up instead, directing it right by the goalie to make it a 2-0 game.
The next puck on Kinkaid was bobbled, first drawing a crowd and then a very angry Christian Folin as someone appeared to jab his netminder’s hand with a stick, sending him to the bench shaking his hand in pain.
The two goals held into the first intermission, leaving Laval with a lot of work to do in period two.
It continued to be a struggle for Laval. While they started strong, the Americans soon put their pressure back on. Kinkaid shook off a rough ending to the first period to keep the deficit at just two. Any Rocket attack, even when they managed to create traffic, was fended off by Johansson or swept aside by a collapsing defender in front.
Rochester’s pressure eventually broke through once again, as Kinkaid fought off a rising shot by Will Borgen but directed the rebound right to the stick of C.J. Smith, who wired his shot over a sliding Kinkaid to make it 3-0.
Laval fought back right away, and after a scramble in front of the net the puck kicked out to Christian Folin. Folin almost immediately fired a pass across the zone to a pinching Gustav Olofsson, who while stumbling, tucked it by Johansson’s sprawling pads.
Gustav Olofsson gets Laval on the board with his first of the year. pic.twitter.com/2fCg0ZV5Jo— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2020
An interference penalty put Laval down a man late, but some heady work by Lynch and timely clears from Folin kept the Amerks from adding to their lead. The two-goal advantage lasted into the intermission, leaving Laval with a big third period in front of them once again.
The final frame contained many of the earlier struggles once again. Laval was pushing hard, attacking with speed, but failing to generate quality zone time to mount an effective attack. Many of their chances were one-and-done, narrowly missing set plays toward the net.
The Amerks, on their first long shift on offence, then added another deflection by Scott Wilson to push the Rochester lead to three.
Then it all came unglued. After being shoved into the boards by Dalton Smith, Hudon lined up Casey Fitzgerald, who was still looking back at his pass, leveling him with a hit to the chest. Everyone on the ice grabbed a partner and punches were tossed, and when all was settled Hudon had been ejected for his hit and Karl Alzner was given a misconduct for continuing an altercation in defence of his teammate.
Charles Hudon levels Casey Fitzgerald, then is instantly mugged by Will Borgen pic.twitter.com/g7msh3nUgz— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2020
The Rocket penalty-killers still pushed looking to battle back at least a bit in a lost game, eventually drawing a penalty for their hard work. While they struggled to generate an attack there, they drew a second call, putting them five-on-three, then pulling Kinkaid to double the opponent’s manpower for a short time.
With the first penalty over, the Rocket still were looking to add another goal, and thanks to a Brook setup they got it. Brook worked off the wall, firing a shot in that Lynch deflected by Johansson to make it a 4-2 game.
Josh Brook waits, then fires a shot in that Kevin Lynch deflects for his fifth goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/UMhalEdAkV— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2020
A Rochester empty net goal sealed the loss for Laval, a stinging defeat in a crucial game in the standings.
Final Score: Rochester 5, Laval 2
The team doesn’t have long to lick their wounds though, as they clash in Binghamton with the Devils on Saturday night.